The Evans Spring area is the mostly undeveloped land across Interstate 581 from Valley View Mall. This is the view looking south, toward downtown Roanoke, as seen from the Lick Run Greenway. Photo by Dwayne Yancey.
The Evans Spring area is the mostly undeveloped land across Interstate 581 from Valley View Mall. This is the view looking south, toward downtown Roanoke, as seen from the Lick Run Greenway. Photo by Dwayne Yancey.

The consulting firm hired by the city of Roanoke to examine the task of updating the plan for the Evans Spring development project said that while there is sizable fiscal potential for the project, it would require a great deal of work and money.

The Roanoke City Council was given an idea Monday of just how much work that would be, and also heard again from those opposing any changes to the 151-acre sprawl of land across Interstate 581 from Valley View Mall.

Although the final report is still about a month away, Land Planning & Design Associates president Bill Mechnick provided details of what would need to happen for the city to achieve the goals it directed the firm to examine. This includes amplifying the economic growth and community vitality of the undeveloped land — the largest such piece in the city — by promoting additional commercial and residential uses while protecting the character of the nearby neighborhoods.

This could happen, Mechnick said, and a sizable economic impact could come along with it.

But to make it happen, there would need to be significant cooperation among the city, the multiple owners of the property and the entities concerned about the environmental impact of any development.

“We were asked to look at a private development … scenario,” Mechnick said. “Not a park, not an amusement park, not a farm or garden. We were asked to look at a potential rezoning process that would make a private development or mixed-use development work under your current city policies.”

Among the points Mechnick made:

  • The Land Planning & Design Associates team determined that about 107 acres of the Evans Spring land could be developed and could lead to nearly $3 billion in economic impact.
  • For that level of financial return, it would be necessary to complete the Valley View Mall interchange on I-581, which is designed to enter the area but has never been completed. The current cost of such a project would be about $55 million.
  • The most recent zoning revision for the area that was adopted in 2013 generally coincides with what might be done now.

Mechnick said that Land Planning & Design Associates will present in its final report a recommended plan that meets all of the council’s requirements.

He also reported on the public input that the consultants have received, much of it coming from a community meeting it hosted in March as well as from eight focus group sessions and door-to-door surveys conducted in the Northwest Roanoke communities that would be impacted.

Among those findings:

  • Those who attended the community meeting were generally opposed to development.
  • Others believed that the location could potentially be developed into affordable housing but opposed commercial development beyond small businesses.
  • Some of the people who were part of the initial community interactions continued to voice their opposition through the spring and summer.

A number of development opponents, who included several members of the Friends of Evans Spring group, were in attendance on Monday. Naomi Clements of Roanoke stood on the side of the meeting room holding a sign that said “Protect Evans Spring.”

A petition is being circulated by the group with the goal of showing the council that there is significant opposition, she said.

“They said they wanted to know what the community thinks,” Clements said. “So we’re doing the best we can to let them know.”

Council members’ questions about the presentation focused mostly on the effects that development would have on the three neighborhoods around Evans Spring — Melrose-Rugby, Villa Heights and Fairland — and on its larger environmental impact.

Mechnick estimated that completing the Valley View interchange would lead to between 19,000 and 22,000 additional cars going through the area each day, depending on whether the interchange provided access to all the surrounding neighborhoods or just to the commercial developments.

In 2019, the neighborhoods saw about 65,000 cars a day, according to a traffic survey at the time. That didn’t include traffic on Hershberger Road or I-581.

Mechnick said his team determined that the interchange would be necessary if the city wants the land to reach its commercial potential.

“If the Valley View interchange is not completed, the land-use scenario would be completely different and would not include such land uses,” he said. “Land-use scenarios would be different.”

The council has not reached the point of discussing what all this could cost the city, but City Manager Bob Cowell said much of the funding could come from other sources.

Private landowners usually are responsible for paying for street, sewer and other infrastructure improvements, Cowell said Monday, and the improvements to the open space area could be funded with grants from both government and special interest groups.

Steve Hemphill has worked for more than 30 years as both a sports reporter and editor. He is the former...